We sit next to each other on a bench against the wall surrounded by the array of trays and used napkins strewn across the wobbly yellow table. I try to raise my glass to drink, but struggle to lift my arm. I’m so full that it’s difficult to breathe. I turn my head to George, who seems to be in a similar predicament. He leans forward in a final attempt to finish the bone marrow, but can’t manoeuvre himself properly. We both sit back, exhausted.
“Right, let’s pay for this so we can get out and walk it off.” George whimpers. I nod in agreement, incapable of speech.
Texas Joe’s is, unsurprisingly, a Texas Barbecue restaurant. After walking past it regularly for many months when returning from events at the nearby Greenwood theatre, I had suggested it and we had finally investigated. The main restaurant area fitted in with the cool glass and exposed concrete style of Bermondsey Street, but it was the bar at the side which had always intrigued us. The building was smaller, shabbier, and altogether more interesting. It was one storey, square-shaped and painted peeling yellow. There was a small window with railings in the wall, too high to see through, but out of which a dull dancing yellow light was always shining. Above a black swing door hung a flickering neon sign that simply said bar. We had decided, we had to see inside. And so we met on a balmy evening on a leafy street in Bermondsey, and entered the Flying Saloon.
“Sorry that entrance was so weird.”
We pushed the door open cautiously, and crept through into the room. We sidled awkwardly up to the bar, and apologised for our peculiar behaviour when we saw the bemused look on the barman’s face. We explained that we hadn’t been sure if it was open, or even attached to Texas Joe’s. It was a fair point – the two establishments were decorated entirely differently. While the main restaurant next door was glass fronted with smart wooden booths and metal furniture, we seemed to have walked into the past. The walls were thick and fading yellow and decorated with posters for Lone Star beer and pictures of armadillos. The ceiling was low above our heads. Bare lightbulbs hung from the corners, filling the dingy room with a quivering golden glow. The barman wasn’t sympathetic to our confusion, however, and seemed keen to serve us and avoid further conversation. So it was that we were soon sitting next to each other on a bench in the corner, sipping on our local beers, and wondering whether the jukebox was functional.
“It’s so refreshing not be overwhelmed with clichés.”
At one point, the owner – assumedly the eponymous “Joe” – wandered in. He wore a blue denim jacket over his plaid shirt, which was tucked into white flared jeans. He was also sporting a stunning white ten-gallon hat, and clicked around the uneven sloping floor in cowboy boots. We watched in amazement as he strutted around, moving portable heaters and placemats, all the time with a small Chihuahua tucked under his arm. He grunted at the staff in a dubious Texan accent, and when a group of loud young professionals arrived, he actually doffed his hat before showing them to the table right next to us, shattering our peaceful enjoyment of Muddy Water’s Hoochie Coochie Man. We decided it was time to eat, and, after some confusion, discovered the menus masquerading as newspapers on our table.
“I feel like I’m on Man vs. Food… for all the right reasons.”
We ordered one main with several sides, keeping the tab open should we need more. We laughed at our mistake when the food arrived. It was served in truly American proportions, plonked down before us on stainless steel trays. To say we gorged ourselves would be an understatement. Not to do it an injustice: the food was not only excessive, but exquisite. It was smoked meat the likes of which I had never imagined possible. I was wary of the bone marrow at first, which I usually associate with dog treats, but at the first fat-filled slurp I was sold. Next came the chicken wings. Real chicken wings with sweet, spicy, smoky sauce. The spare pork ribs were the highlight of the evening, however, falling off the bone seductively and melting in the mouth. They were musky and yet light, served with Texas toast and a generous helping of surprisingly fiery coleslaw. George became crazed, unable to choose between meats. I’d never seen him like it. No gastronomic observations, nothing. Only –
“I literally can’t get it in my face fast enough.”
I was both amused and worried, but didn’t panic. I let him continue as I attempted to digest my food, sitting still like a snake full of wildebeest. I listened to the bunch of bloody legends indulge in tremendous banter on the next door table, while the dated country classics crackled through the speakers… George looked up at me.
“That’s it. I’ve decided. We have to move to Texas.”
We should’ve just gone to the pub.